The Greatest Story Never Told.

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April 9 2004 1:53 PM

The Greatest Story Never Told

Why Mel Gibson's next film project has to be The End.

Let no man call me uncharitable: I have an idea for a motion-picture franchise that will gross $5 billion worldwide, and I'm willing to give it away for nothing—all I want is to see it get made and made right.

Here's the pitch: After watching in awe as The Passion of the Christ piled up its ziggurat of cash, I'm convinced that it is Mel Gibson's destiny to produce and direct the first big-budget, special-effects-driven movie extravaganza about the End of the World as described in the Bible's Book of Revelation. Furthermore, I believe it should be released as a trilogy, in juicy installments that we'll shorthand here as The Rise of Antichrist, The Great Tribulation, and Armageddon/Second Coming. Later, when Mel invites me to the set in New Zealand, and we're hangin', we'll kid around and call the films Anti Up; Oh, Jeez!;and JC3: Ready to Rumble.

I'm joking about part of this—I don't want to hang with Mel; he scares me—but I do think he should make an End Times movie. Think about it. This story has it all: a towering villain, unimaginable violence, and a "happy" ending that involves the wipeout of zillions of Orc-like sinners. But it's never been properly splashed onto a screen. Why? Same reason the Lord of the Rings books stymied moviemakers for so long: The events described have seemed impossible to depict, even with state-of-the-art FX.

But Rings taught us that anything can be captured on film now—even, say, an asteroid striking Earth and destroying a third of the planet's trees and every single blade of its "green grass."

The Bible predicts that? Yes. If you haven't read Revelation lately (or ever), you're probably unaware of the incredible details in this prophecy. The final book of the New Testament, Revelation describes a vision granted to a first-century Christian named John, who was exiled to the Greek island of Patmos by grumpy Romans. It's been suggested that John may have chewed a few too many Patmos mushrooms, and you can see why people would say this. In Chapter 4, angels show up to tell him about "things which must be hereafter." Though the basics are fairly comprehensible—an Antichrist will arise to take the world through a time of torment, but he and his minions will be thrashed at Armageddon, with the forces of good led by the returned Christ—the line-by-line details are psychedelic.

Here we encounter seven-headed dragons, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Whore of Babylon, and of course, a Christ who is quite different from the gentle soul brutalized in the Gospels. He's riding a white horse and leading a heavenly army; his eyes are flaming red; his clothes are bloody; and, weirdly, he has a sword coming out of his mouth.

And that's just one of the signature moments Revelation provides for motivated screenwriters. Recently I phoned James BeauSeigneur, the author of a fine series of End Times novels called The Christ Clone Trilogy, and asked him to list his top five cinematic scenes from the apocalypse. Reading over Jim's favorites, I was very impressed by "demon-driven homicidal madness results in murder of 1/3 of world's population." But I was really floored by his take on Armageddon. At one point, when the Evil Armies realize that Christ is going to kill and damn them all, they turn on each other, every soldier hoping "as much to be killed and freed from the present pain as to kill." To this end they stab, hack, gouge, bite, and strangle, cursing God as a billion birds swoop down to "claw and tear the raw flesh from their bones."

Granted, there are obstacles between now and opening night's wow, but they're easy to identify and solve. The first is that many filmmakers—both from Hollywood and the niche world of Christian cinema—have dabbled with movies about the Second Coming, and their efforts have come up short. So, is the genre inherently cursed? No, just bungled. The Hollywood movies are more artsy than biblical, and they never "go all the way" and depict Armageddon. The Christian films—clunkers like Left Behind: The Movie and Apocalypse: Caught in the Eye of the Storm—are invariably low-budget, so they don't depict much of anything.

Left Behind, based on the hugely popular novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, is a perfect illustration of what goes wrong. When the Rapture occurs—a dramatic moment, prior to Antichrist's Tribulation, when the souls of the righteous are whisked straight to heaven—the producers are too cheap to show any souls actually whooshing up to heaven. Instead you hear the startled cries of a few "left behind" losers riding on a passenger jet, as they wake up from naps and notice empty piles of clothes in the seats next to them.

None of this is a problem for Mel. He has $500 million to spend on snazzy production values, and if he listens to what I'm telling him, he'll earn enough back to pay cash for the Vatican.

Mel's Catholicism is another, more challenging, issue. As a general rule, Catholics don't fret about the End Times the way born-again Protestants do, and they scoff at the Rapture concept. Catholics are supposed to believe that Revelation's events will eventually happen—Article 7, Section 1, of the official church catechism states that the kingdom of heaven will be fulfilled only by "God's victory over the final unleashing of evil"—but they're not supposed to try and figure out when. They heed Jesus' admonition in Mark 13:32 that "of that date and that hour knoweth no man," which means they don't burn calories worrying about whether the ills of today's world mean The End is near.

Because Mel's Catholicism is different from the standard brew—he and his dad, Hutton Gibson, are widely reported to be "sedevacantists," which means they reject the reforms of Vatican II and the authority of all popes installed since then—I wondered if there might be some juicy, End Times-related conspiracy theory hiding in the shadows.

There is conspiracy theory, but it's not relevant to the apocalypse. The most extreme sedevacantists believe that the various false popes since Vatican II were installed by a Jewish cabal designed to destroy true Catholicism and, eventually, usher in a period of secret global control. That sounds like the sort of thing a pesky Antichrist would do just before the Tribulation, but it isn't ... quite. It's more like a really bad historical event whose final meaning remains unclear.

As Hutton Gibson put it during his infamous interview with New York radio talk-show host Steve Feuerstein, "I don't know what their [the Jews'] agenda is except it's all about control. They're after one world religion and one world government."

For a while it bugged me that there's no solid evidence Mel is personally obsessed with the End Times happening soon—he declined my request for an interview—but then I realized it doesn't matter. All he has to do is set the action during some distant, mysterious, painful-to-contemplate future that will be marked by chaos, madness, and strife. (You know—like Election Day 2004.)

The final glitch is Mel's recent statement that he's looking at the story of the Maccabees as possible source material for his next film. The Maccabees were a powerful Jewish clan of the second and first centuries B.C. who, at various times, fought bravely in defense of their religious beliefs. Hanukkah celebrates their victory over Hellenistic Syrians, around 165 B.C., in which they reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem. Mel has described their saga as being "like a western."

My only comment: Nice try, but that won't really "sing" in a movie trailer. ("In a world dominated by Hellenized Syrians, one clan said, 'Enough'!") While Mel is wasting time with this, he could be making the wildest movie ever, one with the combined oompah of Lord of the Rings, Mad Max, The Omen, Independence Day, and Billy Jack 1, 2, and 3.

Don't waste this opportunity, Mel. I happen to believe Jesus is talking to you directly, and you know what he's saying? "Greenlight my encore, baby."

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